Merchants, Owners at Odds Over Renewal


West Altadena merchants and major property owners are facing off over a $60-million office and retail development proposed for Lincoln Avenue by the Cantwell-Anderson Development Co.

The merchants, eager for county redevelopment after a failed effort three years ago, support the development, the West Altadena Technology Park and its retail shops.

But the property owners, who are being asked to risk the equity in their own buildings, are leery.

An owner-participation agreement proposed by developer Thomas Cantwell works like this: Cantwell, who owns a lot in the 25-acre area proposed for redevelopment, has submitted a proposal to the county. If his project is approved, other property owners could become partners in the redevelopment or sell to Cantwell.

If they refuse, the county could begin steps to condemn their property under eminent-domain laws. The public review process, in which owners can comment or submit competing plans, ends Monday.

Merchants, many of whom lease space, want the project to proceed. "We're not fussy around here; we'll take anybody who wants to build a shopping center," said Denny Doucet, president of the 25-member West Altadena Merchants' Assn., which has endorsed the proposal.

But some property owners, including George Szkiba, Frank Laney, John Hall and Joe Miller, who together own most of the property in the retail portion, say they are reluctant to invest their own money in the project.

"I think it's darned expensive," said Hall, owner of three acres along Lincoln Avenue, including the Disabled Veteran's Thrift Store building.

"I don't have a lot of faith in it," Miller said. He called Cantwell's plans "grandiose."

Szkiba, Laney, Hall and a fourth property owner have said they may submit competing plans, said Joan Ling, a county development employee.

The 25 acres along Lincoln Avenue from West Figueroa Drive to West Woodbury Road constitute the eastern side of the 80-acre West Altadena Redevelopment Project, created in 1986. The county originally selected TOPA Management Co. to oversee commercial development. But those plans were abandoned in 1987.

After considering plans by other property owners and public reaction, the County Community Development Commission will decide whether to enter into an agreement with Cantwell-Anderson. No date has been set for a decision.

Peter Postlmayr, project manager for Cantwell-Anderson, said the developer will try to compromise with the property owners. "We would prefer to come to terms with every property owner and not have to use eminent domain," Postlmayr said. "That's the kind of stick we don't want to use."

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